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L.A. STORY: LAKERS ROLL

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. - -Kobe Bryant had that one hole in his impressive resume, that one unanswered question everyone seemingly held against him.

Sure, he had three NBA championship rings. But could he win one without Shaquille O'Neal?

We finally got our answer Sunday night.

Bryant coolly and efficiently led his Lakers past the not-ready-for-prime-time Orlando Magic, 99-86, in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, giving Los Angeles its 15th NBA title. Phil Jackson won his record-breaking 10th NBA title as a coach, surpassing the nine Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach won from 1950 to 1966.

The championship came one season after the Lakers lost to Boston in the NBA Finals. Bryant committed himself to bringing a title back to Los Angeles and showed a renewed intensity throughout the playoffs to get the job done. He had said his kids called him "Grumpy" because he was so serious about winning a title.

Bryant and O'Neal teamed to win NBA titles for the Lakers from 2000 to 2002, but after O'Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004 following a loss in the Finals to the Detroit Pistons, the Lakers officially became Bryant's team.

He finally delivered that solo championship, and he didn't have to be spectacular to do it. He scored 30 points in Game 5, and four teammates also scored in double figures in an incredibly efficient team performance - Lamar Odom added 17 off the bench, Trevor Ariza had 15, Pau Gasol had 14 and Derek Fisher had 13.

The Magic simply proved it wasn't ready for the biggest stage in basketball. All-Star center Dwight Howard was held to 11 points. Sharpshooting Rashard Lewis (18 points on 6-for-19 shooting) and Hedo Turkoglu (12 points) struggled, too. Orlando, which relies so heavily on the three-pointer, made only eight of 26 attempts. The Lakers, meanwhile, made 50 percent (8-for-16) from beyond the arc.

Though there were plenty of Lakers fans in the crowd, the arena turned silent after a stunning second-quarter performance by the Lakers that put the game out of reach.

The Magic had control early, but the Lakers went on a devastating 16-0 run in the period, turning a four-point deficit into a 12-point lead in the span of 3:42.

Los Angeles outscored Orlando 20-6 in the final 6:49 of the quarter and led 56-46 at halftime.

Ariza was unstoppable, scoring 11 of his 12 first-half points in the final 5:09 of the second. Bryant had 15 first-half points. Los Angeles was exceptional from three-point range in the half, hitting 62.5 percent of its shots (5-for-8).

The Magic only made one of its nine three-point attempts in the first half. And that one came from Lewis with 1:48 to go.

The Lakers continued to stretch the lead in the second half. When a timeout was called with 3:09 left in the third quarter and Los Angeles ahead 71-57, it felt as if Magic fans were attending their team's funeral.

It was a good ride for the Magic, which beat the defending champion Celtics and top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers en route to its second NBA Finals appearance. But Orlando ended up hurting itself, as costly mistakes let Games 2 and 4 slip away.

Coach Stan Van Gundy brought injured All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson back for the Finals, but Nelson's return disrupted any rhythm the Magic had at the guard position, and Van Gundy has taken heavy criticism for it.

The Lakers had no such chemistry problems. And no such issues with their coach, who spoke before the game Sunday about what it would mean if he won his 10th championship.

"It's great to win a championship regardless," Jackson said. "Number-wise, it is a number. It is a figure I've attained, but I think it's really about these young men and what they're doing, and I'm trying to keep them focused there."

Though Bryant has an option to terminate his contract with two years remaining, he reaffirmed Saturday that he intends to re-sign with the Lakers.

Now that he has won without O'Neal, perhaps now the big question becomes - how many more can he win on his own?

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